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In a series of articles, The New York Times described the marketing pathways for a new company faced with a surprising consumer response, detailing just how the founder developed, revised, and extended the marketing plan and product decisions.

Cow Wow is cereal-flavored milk, a product that aims to evoke the liquid left over after a breakfast eater finishes all the grains, but milk remains in the bowl. Targeting young children, between 5 and 12 years of age, Cow Wow began by introducing flavors like Chocolate Chip Cathy and Fruity Trudy. Because selling to these young consumers means appealing to their parents, the company decided to use organic, 1 percent milk and cocoa powder, as well as avoid any artificial colors or flavors. The small, 8.5-ounce packages did not require refrigeration, and they featured cute characters and straws for sipping.

African American man eating cerealBut sales were not quite what the founder expected. While struggling to get parents to purchase, the company received an unexpected endorsement by Jimmy Kimmel, the late-night talk show host, who described enjoying the flashback to his childhood. All of a sudden, millennials were seeking out Cow Wow, ready to purchase a fun treat that reminded them of slurping milk from their cereal bowls after they finished their Froot Loops as kids. But marketing to millennials who might drink the milk late at night as a nostalgic snack is very different from marketing to parents and young children who might drink it for breakfast.

Thus the Cow Wow founder faced a difficult decision: stick with the existing plan and production, or reverse course and rebrand, repackage, and remarket for a different customer segment. The New York Times invited experts and readers to weigh in and give the founder advice, and the range of suggestions was quite broad. Arguments cited various factors to consider and predictions for the market.

Ultimately though, the founder chose to halt production on the small containers of organic milk for children and transform his product into a larger package, with a screw top and regular 1 percent milk, to sell to millennials. The names of the flavors also have shifted, featuring Booyah Berry instead of Fruity Trudy for example. With its larger, 11-ounce size, Cow Wow also began charging more per bottle, even as it reduced its costs by switching to traditional instead of organic milk.

The basis for the decision, according to Cow Wow’s founder, was mostly discussions with people he knew, as well as some product testing at several universities. When the college-age consumers called the product cool, the decision was sealed. It was, he noted, “More of a response than we’d gotten selling to moms.”

Discussion Question:

What other types of research could or should the Cow Wow founder have done to help make the decision about whether to change the product offering?

SOURCE: John Grossman, “A Sweet Breakfast Memory that Connects with the Wrong Market,” The New York Times, November 12, 2014; John Grossman, “Should Cow Wow Sell to Little Children or Big Children,” The New York Times, November 12, 2014; John Grossman, “Cow Wow Picks a Target Audience for its Flavored Milk,” The New York Times, November 19, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com